Ismael Vega reflects on consultation and consent

13 November 2016

Ismael Vega from CAAAP (Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica) , an NGO whose work in the Peruvian Amazon goes back more than 40 years, was the PSG’s special guest speaker at its conference on 5 November. He also addressed a meeting in the House of Lords on 7 November at the invitation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights (APPG-HR), as well as leading a seminar on 11 November comparing Peru’s experiences with those of Colombia.

The centrepiece of Vega’s PSG address had to do with the issue of prior consultation on the part of Peruvian indigenous organisations before extractive activities can take place on their land.

He argued that territory is central to the existence and survival of indigenous organisations in the Amazon region, and that no titles of property had been granted to indigenous peoples in the last 20 years. Instead, the Amazon region had been divided up by the state into concessions for mining, oil extraction and mono-cultivation agriculture.

Previously indigenous peoples had occupied large areas, but have lost much of this to outsiders moving in on their lands. Now, Vega said, indigenous groupings are looking for demarcation that will enable them to defend their resources and maintain their lifestyles and cultures intact.

The progress of prior consultation, ratified by law in 2011, had been slow and grudging. There have so far been around 20 processes of consultation carried out. These, Vega said, have usually been regarded by those in government as simply an administrative process to be carried out before giving the green light, a sort of box-ticking exercise designed to persuade those affected how they stood to benefit from the project going ahead. Prior consultation, of course, has not arisen for the many instances of extractive activity dating from before 2011. It has also been rare in the highlands.

One of the problems highlighted by indigenous peoples has been the multiplicity of state institutions involved in prior consultation. The Awajún people, for instance, have demanded the creation of a Ministry for Indigenous Affairs to take control. The nearest Peru came to this was the formation of CONAPA during the Toledo government, an institution co-opted by the then first lady, Eliane Karp, and effectively ignored by Toledo’s successors.

This clash between the dictates of national development and preservation of indigenous lifestyles hit the headlines with the so-called ‘Baguazo’ in 2009 when 33 people lost their lives. In the case of Bagua, Vega noted, the international community played a key role in helping to frame the subsequent Ley de Consulta. Confrontation in the region has since returned with the current two-month blockade of the Marañon river over contamination from the Northern Peru Pipeline (through which crude is pumped from the Amazon oilfields to Talara on the coast).

“Is it possible for PPK (President Kuczynski) to promote economic growth, respecting human and indigenous rights?” Vega asked. He sees the new government as interested in building consensus, but being pushed by business interests in the opposite direction. “The moment of definition is approaching” he maintained.

In the discussion that followed, the issue of consultation versus consent arose. While the 2011 law in Peru talks of ‘consultation’ (consulta), ILO Convention 169 (ratified by Peru in 1992) talks of ‘consent’. In the Peruvian legislation, it is the state, not the indigenous communities, that has the last word. However, Vega added his opinion that once the communities decide to oppose a scheme, de facto it becomes very difficult to proceed with it.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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